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Thursday, 19 October, 2000, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Rwanda's healing process
SA President Thabo Mbeki(l) with host, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame(r)
Rwanda borrows a leaf from SA's reconciliation initiative
By Chris Simpson in Kigali, Rwanda

Rwanda is holding a three-day summit on national reconciliation and unity.

The government says it wants to bring all sections of society together to look at the country's past, present and future, healing divisions and finding solutions to long term problems.

Several prominent exiled politicians declined invitations to return home to attend the discussions

South African president Thabo Mbeki, is amongst the guests attending the summit.

President Mbeki drew parallels between the experience of black South Africans under apartheid and the suffering experienced by Rwandans during the 1994 genocide in which more than half a million people died.

Painful legacy

Mr Mbeki offered the government a message of sympathy and solidarity, pointing out that South Africa, like Rwanda, was dealing with a hugely painful legacy and there were no short cuts or easy solutions.

skulls of the 1994 genocide victims in Gitarama, Rwanda
Rwanda genocide claimed over 500,000 lives
Like South Africa, Rwanda has its own reconciliation commission and this week's summit is about the work already done in Rwanda to promote peace and unity and to look at the omissions.

President Paul Kagame said his government is open to ideas from all quarters.

He emphasised the need for Rwandans to break with the ethnic and political divisions of the past and to work together to fight against poverty and underdevelopment.

Lack of transparency

But Mr Kagame's critics are sceptical about the summit's agenda - several prominent exiled politicians have declined invitations to return home to attend the discussions.

Thousands more forced into exile
They argue that the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), has no real interest in an open dialogue and is trying to manipulate international opinion- asking the questions but not wanting to hear the answers.

More than six years after the genocide, Rwanda is still in a period of transition.

Attempts are being made to build up a viable democracy, beginning at the grass roots.

But local elections which were scheduled for October have been put back and nobody seems quite sure what timetable the RPF is working to.

Foreign donors have often complained in the past about a lack of transparency at the top in Rwanda.

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See also:

19 Oct 00 | Africa
Genocide appeal fails
12 Oct 00 | Africa
Genocide suspect to be deported
18 Mar 99 | Africa
Eyewitness: Rwanda's survivors
25 Apr 00 | Africa
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